A bright future for solar energy - RINA.org

A bright future for solar energy: interview with Pascal Penicaud, CEO, Tenergie

10 Jul 2018

Read our article on Renewables + magazine

The key elements of a strong solar energy sector are finally coming together. Rising demand and social acceptance among consumers. Commitment and support from governments and investors. Technological developments that lower the cost and improve the efficiency and competitiveness of solar energy. As a young, agile company that develops, finances, constructs, operates and maintains solar energy projects in the south of France and Italy, Tenergie is at the heart of the clean energy transition. Our challenge – and goal – is to continue working one by one with customers, investors and communities to help build a strong base for solar energy across France and the rest of Europe.

Rising customer demand is a positive sign for any young industry, but what’s most interesting is the shift in where that demand is coming from. Until recently, central government has usually been considered responsible for electricity provision. As long as their lights turned on, machines worked and bills were reasonable, people rarely considered where their electricity came from. Now, individual businesses and local communities – not governments – have become a major driving force behind demand for solar energy projects.

Many of these projects are on a small scale, but they provide significant benefits directly to consumers. Farmers, for example, can vastly reduce their long-term energy costs with solar greenhouses and agricultural barns with PV roofs. Companies are installing solar carports for charging electric cars and e-bicycles. This type of demand will rise as e-mobility increases and the way society consumes electricity changes. As a relatively small company with 60 permanent employees, we are close to local communities and have direct contact with our customers. So we are seeing these evolutions at first hand and can respond quickly to changes in demand.

Agility is one advantage we have over our larger competitors, the traditional utility and energy companies who have now entered the solar market. They appear to have strong ambitions, and it is not easy to compete against giants. However, we welcome their entry into the market as we recognise that their investments – along with continued support from government and financial institutions – are crucial to achieving France’s ambitious renewable energy targets. We must all contribute to reaching our shared goal of a low-carbon economy.

Involving communities in solar energy projects will accelerate the green energy transition, because social acceptance is a major success factor in renewable energy projects. As people engage with our solar projects, they come to understand the benefits of producing electricity locally and sustainably. Not only do communities gain easier access to competitive, carbonfree and locally produced energy, they enjoy a boost to regional tax revenues and employment.

That is the philosophy behind our recently launched crowdfunding campaigns. In collaboration with Lendosphère, we aim to raise €800,000 over three months for 71 solar plants. The French term for crowdfunding is “financement participatif”, or “participative financing”. For us, the “financing” side is less important than the “participation” side. At this stage, the campaigns represent less than 5% of our capital expenditure. Our main purpose is to mobilise citizens to invest side by side with larger lenders, benefiting financially once the project matures and helping shape their region’s future energy scene.

It has been quite an adventure since Tenergie started in 2008 in Aix-en-Provence. By the end of this year, we expect to have around 600 solar plants representing 250 MW of capacity, along with three wind power plants. As we acquire each new plant, we have the challenge of bringing them up to our standards. Each plant has been developed, constructed and financed by different groups at different times. So although harmonising our growing portfolio is a nice problem to have, it is not an easy one to solve.

As with any young industry, the main issue is that standards are neither international nor stable. We are always chasing them, updating our systems to incorporate new technologies, guidelines and best practices. This is one area in which RINA has been invaluable, providing solid technical and financial advice to solve each new challenge as it arises. I’m really proud of our internal team, but I’m also really happy to have built up a relationship of trust with RINA’s advisors.They have played an important role in our success so far and will continue to support us as we expand over the border into Italy.

As the industry matures, we need to develop robust international standards and stop seeing energy provision as a purely national issue. We are passionate about involving local communities in their energy future and will continue to pursue our initiatives in this area. We look forward to further developments in solar technologies that will make the industry even more competitive, as well as fresh demand from consumers at the ground level. Despite the challenges, the future looks bright for solar power.